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Home Birth Story of Callum | Knoxville Birth Photography and Films | Birthstream Midwifery

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

When I am talking to potential clients on the phone before they have actually hire me I usually mention one of the amazing benefits of having a birth photographer/ film maker is that you get to see your labor and birth again through a different set of eyes. I am always so amazed to hear a birth story from a mom's perspective because you don't hear their thoughts in the moment and while they may seem to be completely calm and peaceful from the outside they might not be having the same thoughts on the inside. But the beauty in seeing your birth again afterwards from the outside view, is it allows you to process through the whole event and really grow and see how truly strong and beautiful you really are!

I was so excited to read Annie's birth story and I am so happy to be able to share it with you all as I think so many of us can relate! So here is The Birth Story of Callum Jerimiah Ray as told by Annie Ray, his mother.

This fourth pregnancy had many extra challenges. The whole gestation and then the birth were a lesson in “You can’t plan for everything. You can’t control everything. But, you can get through it”. It happened during a global pandemic, for one. I changed jobs from a primary care physician doing obstetrics to urgent care on the frontline of COVID care. We have 3 kids also experiencing a global pandemic with upheaval to their school and social life. I had a miscarriage scare in the first trimester and then concerning findings on ultrasound with an abnormal placenta that required extra monitoring. With the pandemic, we couldn’t have family come stay with us to help with the kids during my due time. Each active labor had gotten faster - from 12 hours with the first to 4 hours and then 3 hours and our closest childcare was now an hour and a half away.

With COVID, not only could we not have any extra support people like a photographer at the hospital, but if I had fast labor, Jeremiah would have had to stay with the kids and I would be laboring and giving birth alone. I worried if we waited for the grandparents, I might have an unplanned home delivery without support or supplies. Since my 2nd and 3rd labors and deliveries were uncomplicated, unmedicated births, I decided I wanted to seek out home birth midwifery care with physician back-up if any complications came up. This ended up being an absolutely wonderful decision. I felt safe and secure and so holistically cared for by the midwives and my physicians were a great back-up option if needed.

After it seemed like everything settled down with the placenta, we had a big scare which almost led to an emergency cesarean at 37 weeks. What I was able to cling to through all this was that I had planned for and felt ready for any birth outcome. If any worries or complications arose, we had friends lined up to watch the kids so we could go into the hospital, which is 8 minutes from our house and one of the best birth centers in the state. If things were going super fast and we couldn’t get to the hospital, we had all the supplies and wonderful care providers for a home birth. I was ready to have a calm, safe birth of this final baby on his way to complete our family. I was also really hopeful and excited to have a birth video done by Justine, which we hadn’t been able to do with the other births.

All of my pregnancies had on and off ‘false’ labor for 2-3 weeks before the real thing kicked in. As we reached full term, I stepped up my home regimen to encourage natural labor. There were 3 separate occasions things seemed to be progressing to the point we notified our photographer and the midwives that they might be needed. The previous 3 pregnancies, there was a point at which the contractions changed in character and became consistent and progressive in a way that I knew, “This is finally it!”. And, as silly as it seems, my first priority each time was to style my hair and do some basic make-up between breathing and swaying through those contractions. It seems crazy, I know. But, having myself put together has been a way that I helped myself feel prepared and confident going into any big challenge in life - whether it was a big test, new job or labor.

My due date came and went. I knew with certainty, this was already my biggest baby. My back and pelvis were painful to the point of regularly losing the ability to breathe if I walked wrong or sat too long. I got to the point where I was no longer excited about labor starting, I was mad that my body and the baby seemed to be ignoring my pleas to just FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GET THIS BABY OUT!!! Contractions would start, get to 3-5 minutes apart, I would do my hair and make up, get ready just in case, and then contractions would stop. Each time, I got more embarrassed of my ‘uterus that cried wolf’, and more determined not to call again until it was for-sure active labor (even though I tell my own patients not to be worried about this - doctors are the worst patients!).

I had, in the beginning of the month, in a moment of pessimism, marked 4 days after my due date, 1/29/21, as the day I thought I would go into labor. I woke up that morning with not even a Braxton-Hicks in sight. I had an appointment with my doctor and begged her to sweep my membranes aggressively, hoping my water might break - it didn’t. I was still 4 cm, 70% effaced not much change from the last check. We went home and had sex - still no contractions. By that point, I was doing everything possible to induce labor, including small doses of castor oil 2 days before and that morning. I began to resign myself to induction the following week.

I decided to add a chiropractic adjustment and acupuncture as a last-ditch effort. They were able to squeeze me in for the adjustment at 1pm and I had my first contraction of the whole day in the waiting area. Jeremiah picked up our daughters Rosalyn and Noemi (8 and 6 years old) from their short day of school - we had planned for them to be there with us and they were so excited. I left the appointment and still, not much was happening other than some vague cramping. Certainly not enough to do my hair. I decided to go take some time to myself in my room, read and relax (aka sulk). I was determined to ignore any contractions that weren’t definitely active labor because every time I paid attention to them, they stopped.

By 3:20, I finally admitted to myself that contractions were about every 3-6 minutes and getting more uncomfortable. I texted Jeremiah to cancel my acupuncture appointment for that evening and start looking at our labor checklist to make sure things were ready just in case and messaged Justine to *maybe* be ready. We had a friend pick up our 2 year old from daycare and keep him for us. We called the midwives - I still wasn’t ready to have them come because it felt like other times when labor had still stalled out.

I decided I’d get in the hot tub to see if that eased the cramping. I got in around 3:35. I was comfortably talking to Rosie, told her I thought the baby might really come that day, when I felt my water break. I looked down in shock and sure enough, there were a few wisps of vernix in the clear water. I called out to Jeremiah who was in the yard - it was 3:44. As soon as I got out of the hot tub, there was another small gush of fluid and the contractions immediately became strong, painful and every 2-3 minutes. I told Jeremiah to fill the birth tub because I wanted to immediately get back into water.

I still had it in my head that I was going to shower and do my hair. In the shower, however, the contractions picked up so much that I had to sink fully into my hypnobirthing state. I blocked out everything external to deal with the intensity of the surges. It felt so intense that I decided to feel for my own cervix to see if I was already very dilated, but all I could reach was the lip of it which felt the same as it had that morning when I had checked before anything was happening - I thought I probably had 2-3 hours of labor ahead. I was able to rub oil on my skin between the waves of pressure but by the time I got out of the shower, the midwives were there, the tub was ready and I didn’t even have the mental space to look in the mirror. I threw on the bra I had laid out and my robe and met them in my bedroom. This was 4:06pm. I know because I texted my best friend and my mom and sister, “baby’s coming!”.

Lesley checked the baby’s heart rate while I breathed through another contraction. I had wanted to wait to get in the tub for Justine to get there so she could take a few last pregnant belly photos and some video of us before. But, by that time, all I could focus on was getting to the tub for some relief. They had everything out and were setting up and I sank into the water. The contractions didn’t let up a bit in there. The pressure was less acutely painful, but it still required all of my concentration to stay relaxed through each one. I desperately grasped at all the training I’d done in the months leading up to that to try to dial down the intensity of the sensations, but the surges felt ferocious. I couldn’t remember it being this intense in my other labors so early on - just 30 minutes into active phase.

Jeremiah’s strong counter-pressure helped a lot but when he had to step away, I felt panic at dealing with the contractions on my own. I wanted to cry out for him to come back but the surges were coming so hard and fast I couldn’t do anything but sink back into hypnosis. Justine got there at some point and I barely noticed. Rosie and Noemi sweetly rubbed my shoulders or gave me sips of water, my mom was on the iPad on Facetime nearby, but I could hardly open my eyes to look at them. Midwife Rachel stepped in to rub my back and do counter pressure, but that still didn’t take away the aching.

After a little while I had terrible bladder pressure. I couldn’t make myself pee in the tub (weird positioning or a lifetime of training not to pee in a pool, who knows?) so I made the arduous journey down the hall to the bathroom. I was able to pee but the contractions out of the tub then became so extremely intense that I also got nauseated and threw up the sips of water I had taken. I remember clearly thinking, “I can’t do this for 2 more hours. I need drugs at the hospital. But... I can’t get pants on, I have to just get back in the tub and suffer through now”. That was 4:55.

I raced (waddled quickly) back to the tub. I had 1 more contraction with a little relief from the water and then the one after that, I had an involuntary push reflex. I felt a moment of total elated shock that I was at that point. I couldn’t believe I was past transition already and reached down to feel what was happening. A wrinkly, slippery curve of baby’s skull was right inside the vaginal opening with a tiny, paper thin lip of cervix at the front. I looked up to Jeremiah’s face, beaming, and said, “his head’s right there!”. That was why it felt so intense, like transition had in my other labors. It was transition.

I moved to lean back into Jeremiah’s arms and the next contraction came right away. I breathed to try to slow the push, felt the head come quickly down, the ring of fire stretching open, Noemi called out, “I see the head!”. Then I felt him pull back up - this hadn’t happened with my other babies, they were all born in 1-2 pushes. My fears about this being a big baby came to the surface and my doctor mind clicked into action. I said, “He pulled back up, I think there might be a shoulder dystocia”. Rachel calmly helped me rotate around to a lunge position to open my pelvis. I tried pushing between those contractions but he didn’t budge. As the next one came, I pushed with all my strength and felt his shoulder catch against my pubic bone then with a ‘pop!’ slip under it. I reached down and pulled him through the rest of the burning pain of delivery. I held him to my chest in total shock that he was there already. I had birthed him at home, in the water, caught him myself and he was finally out in the world!

I got out of the tub and made my way across a bridge of towels to the couch (which was covered in protective sheets) for the 3rd stage of labor. The placenta didn’t budge. I got into a squat and latched the baby on to nurse and still nothing. There was a moderate amount of bleeding and they gave me some herbs and then pitocin. I tried to empty my bladder to see if that would help. We moved to my bed with the baby attached to the cord which was still attached to my placenta which did not want to let go of my uterus. Noemi came in and helped cut the cord now that it was empty. It took another dose of pitocin, more herbs, and some less-than-gentle massage and traction on the cord to finally, finally get the placenta to let go - 55 minutes later.

I made it to the bathroom for the painful first pee and the donning of my mesh underwear and jumbo pad and dug out my ‘labor gown’ I had planned to be wearing for all of this. Our friends brought Torin back to meet the baby and he not-so-gently patted his head, casually greeting him with a “Hi, baby!”. Jeremiah put the kids to bed and the midwives tucked me in with drinks, snacks and lots of pads. In that quiet moment, all I could think was, “what just happened?!?”. I pulled out my phone to look and there it was. The one photo Jeremiah had taken. With my hair totally crazy, naked on the toilet.

I laughed about it at first. Told my heroic, too-fast-to-fix-my-hair birth story. But as the weeks went on, I realized it still really, really, bothered me. Why couldn’t I get over my stupid hair?? I’m a grown woman who just had an incredible birth… am I really that superficial? I finally brought it up to my therapist who asked, “If your hair had been perfect, what would that have meant?”.

And it came to me in a torrent - it would have meant that I was in control, that things went how I planned them. Seeing my hair crazy like that, falling out of it’s bun in wild Pride and Prejudice style curls, made me admit that it wasn’t as easy or straightforward as I anticipated. I wanted someone to have read my mind, to have known that I even though it might have looked like all was calm in my labor, I was also kind of scared and in so much pain and to say, “Hey! This is fast and scary, but you can do this. It’s almost over already. We are here for you. Here’s a headband.”

Admitting this, the real, full story of my experience, finally let me appreciate what happened. It wasn’t an orgasmic easy-peasy home birth. It also wasn’t a complicated, over-interventional hospital birth. It was fast and difficult and at moments, scary. It was also calm and beautiful. And it was my birth. My last birth. Let’s let go of the, “as long as mom and baby are healthy, nothing else matters” narratives. They don’t serve us. Birth is a profound, world changing experience for every person, every time. It should be an experience that is supported, processed afterward and then integrated into our new selves in the world. Birth is bigger than a baby coming out. I was not in control, it did not go how I dreamed and carefully planned, and it was also ok. I was brave and scared. I was strong and it hurt. I was surrounded by support and alone. My hair was crazy and my body did a beautiful job. There is room for both sides and in the end I am so grateful for this experience in my life, and of course, for our baby, Callum Jeremiah Ray.

Justine is a birth photographer/filmmaker and doula in the greater Knoxville area, serving Maryville, Greenback, Madisonville, Loudon, Lenoir City, Oak Ridge, Fountain City, Townsend, Sevierville, Strawberry Plains, Gatlinburg, etc. Justine is passionate about physiological birth the way God designed it and thus specializes in home and natural births. Interested in hiring Justine for your birth, click here to get in touch.

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